Sunday, October 11, 2009

An Informative Question

I see that over at the Sci-fi Wire, Paul Di Filippo is asking

Why does the jury that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature hate us?

By "us," I mean, of course, hardcore writers and partisans of fantastika, people unafraid and unashamed to boldly identify themselves primarily with the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, rather than with mainstream, mimetic literature.

I think I can safely say, without being privy to their secret deliberations, that the jury has never once seriously considered confering a Nobel Prize on any writer whose overall body of work has been in science fiction, and who has forthrightly labeled himself or herself an SF geek.

Hmmm. Mr. Paul Di references Kim Stanley Robinson's criticism of the Booker Prize. Could this be his inspiration, do you think, for complaining about the Nobel? To my ear, Stan Robinson's comments lacked the "why do they hate us" tone... I wonder if the analogy is appropriate, myself. For one thing, the Nobel Prize goes to an author for a body of work, not to specific books. I don't imagine that when they gave Doris Lessing the Nobel they were thinking it was for all her work except her science fiction. Mr. Paul Di does concede

Now, it's true that quite a few Nobelists have dabbled in fantastika to a greater or lesser degree. Here's a partial list, in chronological order of their award: Rudyard Kipling, Maurice Maeterlinck, Anatole France, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sinclair Lewis, Herman Hesse, Bertrand Russell, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Harry Martinson, Isaac Bashevis Singer, William Golding, Nadine Gordimer, José Saramago, Gunter Grass and Doris Lessing.

That's an honorable lineage of fantastical writers, many of whom you would find in the library of any broad-minded fan. But not one of them is a truly satisfying representative of the beating, sense-of-wonder heart of modern science fiction, those unabashed proponents of ray guns and aliens, space operas and cyberpunk, dystopias and steampunk, time travel and miraculous technology.

And he proposes

This blatant, painful injustice is why we feel compelled to nominate eight writers whom we feel truly deserve a Nobel Prize. Eight names of artists who have enriched our literary culture at least as much as, say, Frans Eemil Sillanpää (1939); Eyvind Johnson (1974); or Wisława Szymborska (1996).

Now, while there are scads of living writers in our field who have produced monumental works of value, we've acknowledged in our choices the fact that the Nobel judges exhibit certain prejudices: They like to pick older writers with a certain extra-literary gravitas and political-cultural credentials. So that eliminates for the moment such figures as Ian MacLeod, Ken MacLeod and Gwyneth Jones, whom we at first considered.

Here are our candidates, ranked in order from least likely to get the nod to a possible shoo-in.

Needless to say, not all of the people commenting agree with his choices. You can see who they are here.


Ian Sales said...

Some of the comments are telling:

...and to be completely honest I barely recognized any of them (and there were hardly any from the USA). I believe these people just live in a completely different world than we do.

Er, yes. It's called "the rest of the world".

... tried to find the works of Herta, and was able to find two obscure titles (Land of the Green Plums, & The Passport) which were not recognizable to me, and probably not very amazing either.

Of course they must be rubbish books if the poster can't find copies of them with a cursory search. All good literature is by definition immediately available to US citizens.

Anonymous said...

The reality is that the US SF mostly has been less rich and accomplished than some of the other non-winners: Franz Kafka, in particular. A universe where Gene Wolfe is the best writer in English today -- dunno.

Lessing considered the Nobel Prize pretty irrelevant to what she was doing. The people who get into swivets about why "we" can't win the Nobel Prize should re-read Stanislaw Lem.

SF could have been a contender. Lem's prescription for what would make SF a contender still stand.


Josh said...

Yeh, the comments are sad, by and large -- I was especially frustrated by the person who thinks OEB is alive.

And I'm afraid I did go, "Oh, a woman," upon seeing the gender ratio on that list. Wassamatta, couldn't they have put Kate Wilhelm up as well? Russ? Charnas? Why only the SF writer Harold Bloom likes?